A couple pay a visit to an ex-partner and her family in Sebastian Godwin’s effective domestic horror.
Home is, as they say, where the heart is – that formative place where the secret codes and private rites of family living embed themselves from an early age and develop into deep-seated habits, making you who you are. It is the place where you always feel welcome, always quickly rediscover the games and rhythms of your childhood, always feel, well, at home – unless of course you are an outsider.
That is the crux in writer/director Sebastian Godwin’s feature debut. For Richard (Tom Goodman-Hill) may very much be homebound as he drives to the isolated country estate where he used to live to visit his ex-wife Nina, their teen children Lucia (Hattie Gotobed), Ralph (Lukas Rolfe) and their youngest Anna (Raffiella Chapman) who is celebrating her birthday, but for Richard’s new wife Holly (Aisling Loftus), the place is not a home but a mere house. Indeed, it is a house filled with anxiety, given that Holly is under immense pressure to get on and fit in with both the woman whom she has replaced in Richard’s affections, and with his existing children, even as she tries to reconcile herself to her newly conferred status as stepmother. Marrying Richard has brought with it a whole new family – and on their home territory, Holly is very much the interloper.
Homebound begins with an automatic voice message: “The mobile number you’ve called is currently unavailable.” As Richard and Holly drive out to the house, Nina is not answering her phone. Nor is she – or anyone – at the house when the couple arrives. Gradually the children will all emerge from the woodwork, but Nina’s continuing absence comes to dominate this gothic narrative of locked doors, creaking hallways and dark empty basements where Nina (forever) leaves her ghostly traces. Meanwhile Holly observes the loving, upset Anna, and the furtive, conspiratorial, rough-playing Lucia and Ralph – and also sees sides of Richard, now comfortably back in the home environment where he rules the roost, that she has never noticed before. Richard drinks far too much, and when he is not overindulging his wayward children, is disproportionately stern in his punishments. It is a dysfunctional set-up – like every household but also like no other – and as we see it through Holly’s eyes, we discern all its unnerving, alienating mystery.
“Your kids are interesting,” Holly tells Richard the first moment they get alone together in the house. “They take after their father,” he replies, laughing – and there is the rub. Godwin’s uneasy, uncanny feature exposes the cracks and kinks, the ruts and rot, in the structure of a(ny) family, and the poisonous legacy that all this leaves from one generation to the next. At first so desperate to be accepted as a part of this hermetic clan. Holly will come to view its hidden tensions and violence,